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Managing change


Thesis: Managers of organizations today face a demand for change in their organizations if only because change is so pervasive in the world around them.



A. Widespread felt need.

B. Leadership

C. Trust

D. Resources

1. Funds

2. Expertise

E. Positive organizational history


A. Relative advantage of proposed change

B. Impact on social relationships of a proposed change

C. Magnitude of a proposed change

D. Reversibility

E. Complexity




A. Territory

B. Social Groupings

C. Social Power

D. Resources



Managers are fond of saying that "change is the only constant" in their work. Either we manage change or we are managed by change. Managing change is defined as the planning and organizing of sequence of activities (staff meetings, informal conferences, memos, retreats, etc.), that promote administrative and staff interaction which move towards desirable changes in policies, programs, organizational culture, physical environment, procedures, or relationships. Such change in organizations may lead to more efficient and cost-effective operations, better morale or improved services. This paper will identify assumptions, conditions, and dimensions of this practice that will be of use to managers and consultants interested in making or facilitating change in their organization. Finally, a set of organizational principles will be specified and discussed to provide these consultants and managers with a set of guidelines to aid them in the management of the changes they plan.

Managing Change

Managers of organizations today face a demand for change in their organizations if only because change is so pervasive in the world around them. One assumption often made by managers is that workers resist change. Mogeson, an industrial psychologist, clarified the limitations of this notion by suggesting that workers do not necessarily resist change, but "resist being changed" (Myers 39). Low and middle echelon personnel often have useful ideas about what needs changing in their work place. Unfortunately, they are rarely given the opportunity to suggest or make changes themselves (Patti & Resnick 55). Instead, changes are often "done" to them, leading to a tendency to resist these changes--to resist being changed. If workers were asked more often about what changes they wish, this assumption about resistance may wither away due to the usefulness of their change ideas (Kanter 204).

A second incorrect assumption is that the planning of a change in one's department or organization can be kept separate from the implementation of that change (Weatherley & Lipsky 283). Managers often assume that the planning of an organizational change is best done by upper echelons of management while implementation of a change is best performed by lower echelons. Many managers have learned the painful lesson that those who implement change, i.e., lower echelons, often have sufficient resistive power to block the best of management's planned changes. This is especially true if the change does not meet their (perceived) self-interests or if it upsets the work equilibrium they established over years in their work habitat (Weatherly & Lipsky 374). Managers of organizations must learn how to invite workers in the lower reaches of the organization to become partners in the change process. This would mean bringing them in prior to the implementation phase of a change project and involving them as early as possible in the planning phase (Patti & Resnick 56).

The belief that a change process can be managed effectively, regardless of the organizational context of that change, is a third erroneous (Snyder 164-176). For example, an organization's recent history includes many changes and workers and management are overloaded. Consequently, no matter how important the new change may be to all concerned, they will be reluctant to support it. If there is a climate of fear or distress in the organization's recent history (or not so recent), change ideas may be met with active resistance or indifference. Such problems in the organization must seriously be considered and efforts made to deal with them directly and openly before a change project is mounted. Change projects that are perfectly sound may be sabotaged because of these past experiences.

These are only some of the assumptions that may affect how managers position themselves as they address organizational change.

Five conditions for change are cast here in ideal terms, knowing that few organizations or administrations can achieve perfection in all (or even in any) of them.

1. The sense, widespread in the organization, that a particular problem exists and should be resolved. For a change to be accepted and implemented, many levels of the organization need to experience that need. Otherwise, managers may be talking about an organizational problem they alone feel strongly about--with all that this implies for resistance among middle or lower echelons of the organization.

2. The presence of a top administrator who is motivated to work on a

given change and who feels that the change is important for the organization and for his or her self-interest.

3. Probably no other factor so powerfully and so adversely affects the

management of change as a lack of trust between staff and management

(Kennedy 327). Trust may be difficult to maintain in organizations, but it is not

impossible even during today's restrictive economic climate. Needless to say,

this needs much work, energy, and risk-taking by management staff.


IS MORE STABLE. Distrust is, unfortunately, the easier way-- trust is the


Two kinds of resources are discussed, funds and expertise.

1. Funds will have to be made available to pay for a training program if, for

example, the change goal is improving supervisors' capacity to work in a more

participatory way. To alert the supervisors to this need for change in their skills

and then not provide them with the help to remedy this is surely a way to build

cynicism about change.

2. At a minimum three kinds of expertise are needed: (a) skills on the part of

management to persuade, motivate and lead work groups involved in a change

process; (b) knowledge of the dynamics of organizations and how they work

during periods of change; and (c) a special knowledge of informal groups and

networks in order to assess their potential as positive or negative forces in


Too many changes in the organization's history can lead to exhaustion, even if an upcoming change effort is perceived positively by the organizational members. If there have been too many inflated promises about what change can bring, this, too, can result in cynicism about change. Both exhaustion and cynicism in an organization are forces that often prevent staff from supporting further change efforts no matter how good or professional these change ideas are.

"Magnitude of Proposed Change" refers to the extent to which an organizational change can be implemented on a limited scale. This is a desirable feature to have in a change project because of the minimal starting requirement. This makes it easier for managers to support the project and the probability of acceptance, of changes to be implemented later, is greater. Changes requiring the organization to alter itself completely obviously have greater difficulty gaining acceptance, regardless of the need for the change. The point to be made is that the very magnitude of some change may overwhelm their acceptability. This in no way should be taken to imply that major changes are not sometimes needed and shouldn't be tried, rather to recognize the extent of resistance one can anticipate if the change effort is a substantial one.

The ease with which a change project can be rejected or stopped after it is introduced is called reversibility. The fewer the permanent consequences of such a stoppage in a given change project, the more likely that the change will be accepted.

The more complex a change is for organizational members to understand, implement, or utilize, the less likely it will be adopted or accepted. Changes that are more

readily understood, easy to implement and utilize stand a better chance of being accepted and receiving support.

If workers sense that they will lose (or gain) money, position or status as a result of an agency they will surely resist (or support) such a change. Even if the change will not lead to job or salary loss, workers tend to assume the worst and behave accordingly. Full information about job security is critical.

One of the most difficult and painful realities of change in organizations--and in social systems--is a tendency to "backslide," i.e., revert to previous levels or modes of functioning (Newcomb, Maccoby & Hartley 235). This tends to happen after pressures for change are relaxed or ended. For example, an executive team consisting of a CEO and five assistants experienced an organizational intervention at a three-day retreat, helping them to be less competitive and more trusting among themselves. After a month or two of pressure from the board, decline in market shares, and competition from other companies, they began to slide back to the old climate of suspicion, competition, and backbiting. The following principles of an organizational change, if successfully implemented, may reduce the tendency to revert back to previous equilibrium.

1. Both the formal and informal organization of an institution must be considered

in the planning of change.

Besides the formal structure, every social system has a network of cliques and

informal grouping. These informal associations often exert such strong

restraining influences on changes initiated by management that, unless their

power can be harnessed in support of the change, no enduring change is likely to

occur. The informal groupings often have as stron

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